Simple Things You Can Do to Protect Our Waters

By ecoRI News staff

There are many streams and rivers that flow through backyards and drain into ponds, lakes, bays and ultimately the ocean. Pollutants such as animal feces, fertilizer, oil, hazardous waste, road sand and grease on land can be washed into our waters, but we can reduce this type of pollution. Here is a list, courtesy of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), of things you can do to help clean our local waterways:

Learn about your local waters. Everyone lives in a watershed, which is the drainage area to a local body of water — think of washing everything in a sink down the drain and the drain is your local river or stream. Figure out what waters are closest to you and where they flow. Learn about local animal life and plants that live in and around these waters.

Don’t feed the ducks. Although you may enjoy feeding geese, ducks, gulls and other waterfowl, remember that they too contribute to the same type of pollution that limits swimming and shellfishing. One bird dropping can contaminate 10,000 gallons of water. Plus, bread and other human food are bad for a bird’s digestive tract. Feeding waterfowl can also attract larger bird populations and may cause some birds to stop migrating.

Pick up after your pets. Dog waste and feces from other warm-blooded animals pollute local waterways and are larger polluters than you may think. This type of pollution contributes to the closing of beaches and shellfish beds. Pick up your pet’s waste and deposit it in a trash can.

Inspect septic systems. Failing septic systems are a major source of pollution to groundwater and local reservoirs. What you flush directly affects the water we drink and the waters where we fish, swim and boat. If you have a septic system, have it inspected regularly, and pump and repair it as needed.

Avoid overfertilizing your lawn. During rainstorms, nutrients from lawn fertilizer can be washed off lawns and paved areas into local waters. This type of pollution contributes to eutrophication, a process that causes nuisance algal blooms and reduction of habitat and oxygen levels for many aquatic organisms. This leads to a decline in fish and shellfish populations, and reduces the diversity of fish. Get your soil tested to see if it really needs more fertilizer and, if so, use as little as necessary. Read the label on fertilizer packages, apply according to directions, and clean up any fertilizer left on paved areas. Also, reduce your lawn area by planting native plants that are better adapted for the environment, and can act as buffers to prevent runoff from your lawn.

Pump it, don’t dump it! If you own a boat, have your holding tank emptied at a pump-out station.